Tag Archives: TechPageOne

Museums create interactive tech for disabled youth

In addition to creating audio-tactile maps to the Descriptive Video Exchange, Dr. Joshua Miele has another project — to improve the museum experience for disabled youth.

Miele is working closely with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) to create a program where people, specifically blind youth, are able to interact with pieces within a museum.“A lot of museums are things that you largely look at and you don’t have an opportunity to interact with them,” explained executive director Mark Roccobono of the NFB. “There are a lot of great technologies out there that can provide descriptions about the items you’re looking at, and it would be great for blind people who visit museums.”

At the moment, art museums have a different set of problems than science museums, but the issue of the lack of accessibility to the works still remains.

Miele and the NFB are hoping to enhance access to several science museums for blind youth and their families with the help of the National Science Foundation.

In its first month of a three-year project, the Museum of Science in Boston and the Port Discovery Children’s Museum in Baltimore are currently involved. Roccobono hopes more museums will come on board later.

“We’re trying to inspire and engage blind youth in science, but also create a relationship between blind people on the local level and the science museum by working specifically on making some exhibits accessible,” said Roccobono, noting it’s a chicken-and-egg problem. “A museum says, ‘We never see any blind people in here so it’s hard to work on access for blind people,’ while blind people say, ‘We never go this museum because they never have anything that is accessible.’ If they do something accessible, it’s done cheaply so it’s not meaningful.”

The project is also looking to build a relationship between the museum and its visitors. Ideally the visually impaired can evaluate and provide feedback on what’s happening and the museum can work to integrate tools and techniques already available.

“It’s important that mainstream technologies are also accessible to blind people and that we have to recognize technology is not what makes people successful, but rather technology provides access to information we haven’t had before,” said Roccobono as the project continues to surge forward.
Overall, Miele and Roccobono agree the vast majority of work that needs to be done is making and providing people with better access in a manner that’s more mainstream and not just focused on the technology.

“I’m here developing these innovative tools and talking about how we can use these to make information more accessible, but I’m kind of out ahead of where most things need to be,” said Miele. “There’s a lot of basic work that needs to be done and most of it isn’t incredibly hard to do. It comes down to awareness and people understanding the problems.”

Future goals for Miele include accessible maps and interactive areas not just for public transit or museums, but also places like the airport that see a lot of traffic and is in need of good information.

Also in Assistive Technology

The series explores how advancements in assistive technology are helping the visually impaired and the disabled.

Originally posted in TechPageOne.

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How B.A.R.T. helps the blind get around

What started nine years ago with the creation of the Tactile Map Automated Production (TMAP) system for California’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system has developed into an audio-tactile graphic map to increase accessibility for the visually impaired.

Dr. Joshua Miele and his team at the Smith-Kettlewell Video Description Development Center are once again working alongside San Francisco’s LightHouse organization to make travelling easier with easy access to information.

“BART maps has been one of the ways I’ve been working on making information more accessible,” said Miele. “I developed a tool in 2004 called TMAPs and it was and is the only way a person can get the tactile feel of anyplace they want.”

Most people can go to Google Streetview or Google Maps and retrieve a lot of information, but those with visual impairments cannot get that same spatial context and information hence the creation of TMAPs. However, much of the Braille maps now are too cramped with information and certain areas are not labeled due to lack of space.

Miele and LightHouse are now working to launch the audio-tactile graphic maps in 43 of the 44 station stops. The project is a few months from being released.

These new maps allow people to explore the area through Braille, as well as audio stimulation. The maps incorporate Braille into its design, but it is not dense with information.

To get a more in-depth experience, you can employ a smart pen to touch the graphics and a computer will inform you about the part of the map you are touching. The use of smart pens is particularly adaptable for uses outside the public transportation system.

“There has been a lot of positive responses and the interest continues to grow,” said Frank Welte, information resource specialist and strip map coordinator of LightHouse. “A lot of people, not just the blind, are excited for the audio-tactile maps to help with their orientation of where they are and have to be.”

The importance of this technology is that once these maps are implemented, they’ll not only be useful to transit, but for other maps as well, added Wente.

“You can almost incorporate a guide book into the map, which is a future possibility,” he said.
The technology already exists in various forms but needs to be applied everywhere, said Mark Roccobono, executive director with the National Federation of the Blind, which is a membership-based organization of blind people in the United States.

“If we can get engineers and others to design technology with accessibility in mind from the beginning, we can then use technology that everybody else can use. It would be the same information, at the same time, at a different price, though we would access it through Braille or audio,” said Roccobono. “The importance of public transportation and having the technology make it accessible is helpful.”

He pointed to the audio and visual cues that most buses now have that announce which stop is coming up. In this case, audio cues are also helpful for visitors to the city or if English isn’t your first language.

There are other companies and organizations working to make information more accessible to blind people around the world, but Miele added that those projects aren’t currently at the scale of his team’s projects.

However, Roccobono noted the biggest problem facing blind people isn’t blindness itself, it is more the public attitudes toward blindness and technology doesn’t change that.

“One thing it (technology) does change is access to information,” he added.

Also in Assistive Technology

The series explores how advancements in assistive technology are helping the visually impaired and the disabled.

Originally posted in TechPageOne.

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DVX: More content accessible to the visually impaired

Created by Dr. Joshua Miele and his colleagues at the Smith-Kettlewell Video Description Development Center in San Francisco, California, the Descriptive Video Exchange (DVX) provides an audio descriptor narrating the scene or moment in the program.

DVX is still in early development where large load balancing and optimization of geographic use doesn’t require multicloud use at this time. However, Miele noted it’s called cloud-based because it helps people understand that the project is all on the Internet and not a program that runs on one’s PC or smartphone.
What’s important to note is that the server itself does not store the original videos; rather, it holds only the descriptions, identification and timing information, and works in time with a video player that plays whatever video you want to watch.

At present, those who are visually impaired are able to access videos, such as movies or television shows, and listen to the dialog and music it contains. However, what remains missing is a certain visual context that is currently unavailable for most videos.

“We are looking into the future, where the vast majority of video will not be consumed via broadcast media. It will be consumed over the Internet,” he explained. “We are looking at a day coming very soon when electronic textbooks will contain embedded video.”

Though video description was invented in the 1970s as a way to give blind people access to information on what’s occurring digitally on the screen, it was mostly for entertainment.

However, video description isn’t only about the luxury of entertainment now, said Miele.
“Now there’s a great deal of education and job training and healthcare-related information distributed to video,” he explained. “If you don’t have access to the information on the screen, blind people won’t be educated or have the same access to job training as sight people do.”

Miele points to websites, including YouTube, where people can upload their own videos that have changed the landscape of accessibility for those with visual disabilities.

In order to create a described video, users would previously have to get permission from the copyright holder, he added.

“We’re interested in the idea of crowd-sourcing video description so that anybody anywhere can describe any online video for anybody anywhere else,” said Miele, adding they are currently looking into the legal and fair trade aspects of the project. “We aren’t redistributing or copying the video, we’re not doing anything to the video other than playing with it simultaneously with the described content.”

DVX is currently available upon request.

Along with creating DVX, Miele is working with his partners to create youdescribe.org, which will provide audio descriptors for popular YouTube videos.

The site itself has a little over 100 videos currently available to watch with audio descriptors, but it allows the public to record their own audio descriptors before sharing the result to the public.

Here′s a sample of a descriptive video.

Also in Assistive Technology

The series explores how advancements in assistive technology are helping the visually impaired and the disabled.

Originally posted in TechPageOne.

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SMBs use multi-clouds to ramp up customer service

Transferring and storing data has never been easier with the assistance of cloud services, something that allows companies to streamline their work and increase efficiency toward customer service.

Businesses are able to use each cloud service provider to improve their end game and customer service, explained Michael Zafiris, a software specialist and Google Apps Certified Deployment Specialist at InterlockIT.

Where larger cloud providers target business, Dropbox and others such as SugarSync and ADrive have targeted the general consumer market.As one of Canada’s two Google Apps Premier SMB Resellers, InterlockIT’s primary business operations revolve around migrating companies away from “traditional” email systems (like Exchange or Lotus Notes) to Google Apps, which is a suite of applications that enable business to work much more efficiently and more cheaply than their old systems.

Along with using Google, Zafiris pointed out InterlockIT also uses Microsoft Office 365 and cloud services that enable the company to automate a lot of the work.

There are a ton of benefits that come from using nearly any cloud computing product, said Zafiris.

“Obviously there are cost savings as there’s no hardware to keep updated and no need to ever buy new servers since the provider takes care of all of that for you,” he explained. “This results in reduced overhead so your IT staff can focus on things to make you more efficient. We’ve helped many customers become server free. Cloud computing is a disruptive way of work that provides cheaper, more convenient, and simpler business solutions that work.”

The most valued aspect of using a cloud provider is that it isn’t specific to any job, trade, or industry. A company is also able to access it anywhere around the world as long as there is an Internet connection.

For Ontario-based Enliten Energy Services Corporation, the use of cloud allows company technicians a convenient and efficient service to tether and upload directly. Not only does it instantly sync the information across everyone’s accounts, it provides instantaneous information and knowledge of the situation and how it can be fixed. This in turn enables the company to efficiently address a client’s needs.

“In this way, our central base and our coordinator has instant access to our real-time data and can immediately spot problems,” explained technician Chi-Linh Dinh. “Before, we used a very slow-form procedure of sending attachments at the end of each day. Now, all we do is add our information to the cloud and our coordinator has everything nicely synced up and ready to go.”

Dinh noted the company also uses Google Apps for business in conjunction with Google Drive, where everything is time stamped with the user who fixed the files.

As a result, this keeps all the modifications straight. The fact that the we have a backup copy of our files ensures that it doesn’t matter which techs on which days goes out to which sites; they can access the same information in the field as everyone else,” she added. “This boosts efficiency down the chain.”

With the world increasingly become more adept at focusing resources through online means, Zafiris pointed out everything will soon be accessible from everywhere, with no need to maintain local resources since someone else will do it for you.

Originally posted in TechPageOne.

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68% of CEOs lack presence in social media

A new study reveals less than a third of CEOs at America’s 500 highest-grossing companies use social media.

Conducted by CEO.com, a news site for CEO-related content and business software company DOMO, the study compiled data after searching for the top 500 CEOs on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google and Facebook between May 6 and May 20, 2013.

However, the news isn’t surprising to Arend Kersten, CEO for Flamborough’s Chamber of Commerce.

“I can’t say I’m surprised by the survey results,” he said. “Typically, if you’re a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, you are at the pinnacle of your career. At those levels, CEOs typically have huge staff (that) look after the social media requirements of the company.”

Part of the resistance is that CEOs value their privacy and time, he added.

“There’s a cost attached to that in terms of lost of privacy,” said Kersten. “However, smart CEOs do understand the changing world with regards to social media and marketing but they have armies of underlings that will do that for them.”

The study noted only 32 percent of top CEOs have at least one account on a social network, while around 68 percent have no social presence at all.

According to the study, most CEOs are active on LinkedIn, with 27.9 percent (140 CEOs) with LinkedIn accounts. Facebook interactions amongst CEOs is at 7.6 percent, down from a year ago.

Twitter is much less used by CEOs, with just 5.6 percent (28 CEOs) with an account and only 19 considered “active.” An account is considered active when they have tweeted in the 100 days prior to the study, with around one tweet per day. Eighteen percent of adults in the U.S. use Twitter.  Only 5 CEOs use Google+.

Peter Aceto, CEO of ING Direct Canada, is an avid Tweeter and also participates on behalf of the company on Facebook but said whether or not CEOs are engaged is a different battle.

“What’s changed over the last few years is how people have acknowledged how essential social media is to a business,” said Aceto. “When it comes to personal behavior and personal time, a lot of CEOs aren’t prepared to take the jump at this time.”

Each social media forum does have its own personal conduct and interactions with customers, which is something companies have to keep in mind. For ING Direct, it all depends on the types of engagement they want to have with customers and the community.

“When there are conversations occurring on its Facebook page, I’ll show up and weigh in there and I’m sharing with customers and potential customers daily,” he added. “What you can communicate and do on Twitter is different than what you can do on Facebook, so the dialogue is very different.”

Nevertheless, the study did note some of the CEOs who do have Twitter accounts have “fake” followers, with some profiles also proving to be fictional.

More importantly, the strengths of social media, especially the reach of Twitter, is something all CEOs should take note of.

Social media, such as Facebook or Twitter, are vital to businesses and companies cannot afford to disregard its importance.

“(Social media) is an absolutely essential and crucial part of any business and it has to be a part of anyone’s business – someone who doesn’t engage with social media won’t be in that position for long,” concluded Kersten.

Originally posted in TechPageOne.

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Creative marketing has its place amongst big data

Collecting data has never been so easy with super computers and data processing, but the creative market maintains its still has a role.

With so much information about individual consumers at marketers’ fingertips, big data will deliver products that customers are looking for. But not yet.

There may never be a time where big data trumps creative marketing, argues Mark Warren, president of Warren Business & Technology Integration.

“It would be like putting every meal you’ve ever eaten into a blender – the end result would be as palatable as an attempt to replace creative marketing with a distillation of a virtually infinite blender full of data,” he explained. “I think the solution is that there will always be a requirement for creative marketing.”

Big data, otherwise known as large and complex data sets, is now readily available for companies to access. Whether it’s through determining user activity on social media or how many viewers tune into a Super Bowl ad, big data has changed the way communication and advertisements are marketed.

Companies are able to look through analytics and compare large data sets captured using improved software tools over a period of time or duration.

As Chief Technology Officer for Factor[e], a design and marketing firm, Adrian Duyzer agreed, noting the big data would have a difficult time replacing creative marketing.

“I don’t see where those things overlap,” Duyzer said. “It’ll be hard to ever replace the duties of a creative marketing team.”

Homework into any marketing endeavor with big data is also vital.

“A good creative marketing team will do their homework which will include the analysis of the available data (so big data probably has a place here),” said Warren. “(However), the ‘creative’ part of creative marketing will find synergy between data analysis and ‘adding just a pinch of…‘ art-meets-science approach to their recommendations on how a product or service should evolve to meet and anticipate market needs.”

Part of secret may be determining how to create a great ad may lie in the art of knowing which data should be excluded, argued Warren.

Originally posted in TechPageOne.


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Microsoft responds with 8.1

During its Build 2013 conference in San Francisco, Microsoft released a preview of Windows 8.1, returning the Windows Start icon and introducing better apps and upgrades in search features. This incremental incarnation of Windows, which was crowd sourced from a wealth of user feedback, looks to address problems of its predecessor.

Though the experience on Windows 8 was initially confusing, Darren Kitamura, a senior web developer with OverAir, noted that the shortcuts made navigating the system easier. Customers were finding ways around the missing Start button with a paid app.“There is also a free program you can download that creates a start button and mimics the actions of the start button in Windows 7 which makes the system more tolerable,” he said. “On the upside I have found Windows 8 slightly faster, and more responsive with better native support for devices and multi-monitor setups.”

At the moment, Kitamura runs Windows 8 on his main desktop PC and Windows 7 on his laptop. He works on developing near field communications (NFC) on both machines but has yet to preview Windows Blue. Windows 8 received mixed reviews from operators, with its emphasis on touchscreen capabilities and apps, when it initially launched last October.

Kitamura believes much of the grief Microsoft suffered was due to the removal of the Start button and the Metro interface. “I can totally understand where Microsoft is coming from,” he said. “Consider an Android phone or an iPhone where all your applications are laid out for you, which is exactly how Windows 8 does it. This would work perfectly for touchscreen devices but for a lot of people who don’t have that, it isn’t as good for a mouse and keyboard.”

So why the return of the start button?

“Part of the reason for Microsoft to do this was to create a unified interface across their devices,” explained Kitamura. “Consider iOS and OSX with how they are distinctly different – if you took a WindowsRT tablet and then your PC which runs Windows 8 it is a basically seamless transition to the experience.”

The unification of their systems, though aimed at a segregated market, should consider desktop users instead of removing the items they loved, he added. Kitamura is looking forward to experimenting with Windows 8.1, but isn’t sure if the changes will affect his work. He does, however, believe the changes will facilitate day-to-day operations.

Windows 8.1 is a beta release, meaning it’s testing software that the average user shouldn’t install on his or her production device. Microsoft says it will release Windows 8.1 in the third quarter and it will be free for customers who own Windows 8.

Originally posted in TechPageOne, aNewDomain.

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Online privacy: How to communicate securely

How can you communicate securely on the web, with absolute confidence that your correspondence will only be seen by the parties involved? What tools can you use?

In some instances where people are communicating through servers, the idea of using proxies and Tor have arisen for safe discussions or data sharing.

Tor was initially designed by the U.S. Naval Research Library to help reduce the risks of traffic analysis. This is done by distributing your transactions over several places on the Internet through proxies, therefore making it more difficult to pinpoint one singular destination.

“Traffic analysis” essentially informs servers of what is being done and who is doing it.

The problem with using proxies and Tor, especially when utilizing free proxies, is a matter of trust in where your information will be bounced.

The Tor Project pointed out that end-to-end attacks are still possible for those looking for information and the right channels, but the most important aspect is staying smart when using technology. This includes not revealing personal information.

Installing Tor is relatively simple, though it does slow down connectivity to a server in return for safer communications.

From the technical perspective of telephone communication, IT security expert Scott Janiki noted that back-end routing of calls on various networks utilizes the cheapest path for many companies.

“Even with proper controls in place to keep calls private, the resources available by [big players] probably would not help for long,” Janiki explained. “Unfortunately, as in this case, the public, when utilizing such services, was not informed from the onset by the vendor of this routing possibility.”

“Within Verizon’s privacy policy, it wasn’t mentioned that a foreign government is monitoring all communications that enter the U.S. Even if users were informed, most people would probably not understand the potential ramifications,” said Janiki.

For Canadians following this story closely, Canada’s communication voice and data infrastructure, on the other hand, only has a couple of major routing hubs, with the vast majority still located in the U.S.

“Therefore the likelihood of a data/voice communication staying in Canada is extremely low,” he said.  “As a result of the spider web of networks which makes the communication connectivity so resilient, it has also eroded Canada’s sovereignty and with it certain Canadian rights and laws.”

Scott Hutchinson, a public relations manager for the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, noted the issue of national surveillance programs aided through information technology is a concern for authorities around the world.“While we don’t think privacy should uniformly trump security or vice versa, greater transparency regarding how the programs work is of order,” said Hutchinson. “Our office also plans to contact fellow international Data Protection Authorities who may share similar concerns about the personal information of their citizens to discuss combining fact finding efforts on this matter as appropriate.”

Communication Security Establishment Canada (CSE), similar to the National Security Agency (NSA), has its own metadata program with little known in regards to specific information. However, as reported initially, the PRISM program has already recorded conversations of millions of Verizon’s customers.

Though slow and not without its own concerns, said Janiki, regular postage through the mail may be the only secure way to ensure that communications remain private.

Originally posted in TechPageOne, aNewDomain.

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What IT managers look for in new graduates

From SAP to ITIL, to business analysis and Oracle, what certifications are IT managers looking for when hiring?

For graduates looking to enter the work force, an SAP (Systems, Applications and Products) certificate is often a good choice for junior consultants. Focused on business software applications, SAP is related to enterprise resource planning, which includes management knowledge in supply chain and product life-cycle.

“On the other hand, ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) foundation is open for all IT professionals who are interested in understanding the ITIL framework,” explained Linying Dong, Associate Professor of Business Management Technology at Toronto’s Ryerson University. “Also, some schools offer certifications such as Business Analysis at the University of Toronto that helps show the student has possessed knowledge and skills in a certain area.”

However, Dong noted not all certifications are suitable for new graduates when experience is taken into account. For example, a Business System Analyst certificate requires a candidate to acquire more than 5,500 hours of working experience in the areas related to business analysis, which is nearly impossible for new graduates to acquire.

“As a result, IT managers know about the difficulty for entry-level candidates to obtain an IT certificate, so any IT-related certifications would help a candidate in his/her job search,” said Dong.

Depending on the position a person is applies to, Google keeps an eye out for computer science degrees as well as experience with Java, Java Script, or C++, Google spokesperson Wendy Bairos said.

“It’s as much about what degrees and certifications a person has, and how well they fit in with a team,” she said. For example, a software engineer position in Kitchener-Waterloo, Canada requires the minimum requirements of a B.A. or B.Sc. in lieu of a degree or equivalent experience.

“Both are looked at equally, but depending on the role, it may require experience with at least one of Java, Java Script, or C++,” said Bairos. “There are some preferred qualifications, but they’re not necessary. Job postings give people a sense of what we look for, and it gives the employee a sense of what we may expect of them under an engineering team.”

Bairos added that certificates and diplomas are always welcome, but a key element IT managers look for is a good fit with the culture of the company and the ability to work in a team environment.

“In order to be successful you need to be able to work together,” she said. “We do look for people who can work and collaborate with a team, not just people who have very specific skills for a job.”

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